Showing posts with label literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literature. Show all posts

15 May 2017

The Ties That Bind

  Family Fortnight +   Today, the 15th of May, marks the International Day of Families. For the past two weeks, our mystery writers have written of kith and kin, of loved ones and dear ones, and we have more articles to go plus some follow-ups. We’re happy to invite David and daughter to celebrate this world holiday. Settle back and enjoy!

by David Dean and Bridgid Dean

Today is International Family Day, an occasion that I was unaware of until Leigh Lundin made me so. He also asked if I would consider writing an article on the subject. Being an internationally recognized expert on the subject of families, this was agreeable to me.

Most of us have families, whether through blood, adoption, or, in some cases, through convenient, and hopefully beneficial, social arrangements. I wouldn't be going out on a limb if I also added that most of us have, or have had, conflicting feelings about these same families. It's safe to say that much of the stress, anguish, and worry we experience in our lives comes as a result of these unruly, and often ungovernable, social units. Growing up we can hardly contain our exuberance when thinking of that blessed day when we, too, will be adults like our awful parents… and free! Then, for reasons both unclear and diabolical, we finally do leave home, find a mate, produce children, and become truly awful parents ourselves. Maybe not every moment of every day (we do have to sleep after all), but in the invisible yet meticulously maintained ledger of infractions kept by all children, we are judged sadly lacking in all the important categories. Clearly, the only thing learned from our own awful parents was to reproduce their sad failings. And then there's adolescence…

When children enter into this infernal stage the very gates of family hell swing wide emitting foul odors and spewing forth imps and devils, artfully, and awfully, disguised as your own issue. Entering into this dark region slays and tramples all remaining hopes but one– that someday, and God willing, someday soon, those children of the damned will also be visited with adulthood and leave the family manse… if it still stands!

And yet, for reasons that are mostly unreasonable, we find ourselves dreading that day, as well, and saddened when it finally does happen; comically nostalgic for the days we were a young family. Even those children turned adults, having now tasted the dubious freedoms they once longed for, purr like contented kittens during visits home. It has even been remarked by my children that their mother and I have grown more intelligent and reasonable with the years, a possibility none of them had foreseen.

So how did we weather the tumultuous years that we now look back so fondly to? There were two methods employed to save us from the lengthy prisons terms we all contemplated from time to time. The first was a dog. Not just any dog, but a Welsh Corgi. We are a Celtic-derived family and therefore must have a Celtic canine. Silke, as she came to be called, fit right in, being both untrainable and demanding. She was just as uncompromising as the rest of us, only probably smarter. Yet, the kids adored her, and their mother and I were roped in as well.

Corgi
In a very Celtic way Silke became our sin-eater. No matter how badly we behaved toward one another, she was always available to be stroked and petted, somehow soothing and calming us in the process of tending to her unending need for affection. By being so needy and demanding, she drew us out of our own selfishness. And because she was inadvertently comical and endearing, she was a subject we could always talk about. Silke was a movable conflict-free zone.

But it is the second method--reading, that is more germane to this blog site. The family I grew up in did not often indulge in the written word. My parents were not well educated and, having grown up working, had never had the leisure time for recreational reading. It was my good fortune, and through their hard work, that I was provided with that very luxury– a gift beyond rubies. Not that they encouraged me to read, but seeing that I had a knack for it, they did not oppose it. In fact, when they observed that I was becoming a voracious reader of stories, novels, newspapers, and comic books, they were mildly amused, if somewhat cautious, being unsure of the results of such indiscriminate mental activity.

At greater family gatherings it was sometimes pointed out with a certain pride that I read a lot of books. My relatives' reaction to such an announcement ran the gamut from mild astonishment as to why anyone would do such a thing, to concern for my mental health and spiritual well-being. Still, I pressed on, and many years later looked about me one day to find that all of my own progeny had picked up books from somewhere and were reading them. It must have been the silence and unaccustomed peacefulness of my suddenly unfamiliar surroundings that tipped me off. I had failed to notice the start of this phenomenon and was, like my relatives before me, mildly astonished at the development. Could it be that my children and I shared some common thread beside DNA, I asked myself. Was it possible?

Like an animal trainer that's been bitten and mauled, I proceeded with caution, gently inquiring as to the subjects of their readings, while sliding books of my own choosing through the bars of their theoretical cages. Mostly, after a sniff or two, these were rejected– though not with snarls or bared fangs, just shifted back to me without comment. I was encouraged and found that with patience and literary forbearance we soon began to use the spoken word to discuss authors and stories, even progressing to the ideas and inspirations that might have motivated them. And all of this without heated argument or emotional eruptions! I questioned my own sanity. Could this really be happening? My wife assured me that it was all real.

Julian and J. Joyce in Dublin
Oh, how I wish I could say that the Dean household's serenity was nevermore disturbed by a voice raised in anger, or shrill with indignation. Alas for all you hopeful young parents out there, it cannot be done. We devolved on more occasions than I would willingly recall… but now there were bright oases that we arrived at from time to time in our family journey, like restful, green isles scattered across a turbulent, grey sea. Just when it seemed that my mutinous crew would finally toss me overboard, we would wash up onto a wide, warm beach and peace be restored with the opening of a book.

Many years later, I still discuss stories, books, and writers with my adult children. And it's rare I come away from visits to their homes without a book selected from their shelves.

Our son, Julian, is turning his love of reading into a profession, having just been accepted into Notre Dame University's PH.d program for literature. He will be specializing in Irish works. It seems Ireland has produced some decent authors over the years. Who knew?

My eldest girl, Tanya, still waxes nostalgic over our reading of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when she was but a child.

Her sister, Bridgid, not only retained her appetite for literature, but has become a writer, as well, having produced her first novella, The Girl In The Forest. (You'll hear from her in just a moment.)

So here you have it, on this International Family Day, all of my wisdom and experience contained in these two exhortations: Get a pet and scatter books about like landmines! It worked for us and could for you.



Bridgid’s View of Things

While it is hard to argue with the notion that my parents have grown more reasonable over the years since we've left home (probably because they didn't have us kids around, irritating them to distraction!) I would like to point out that I always thought they were intelligent. This point was particularly impressed upon me when, at the age of eight, I heard that my dad was going to have a story published for the first time.

My sister was already in college and my brother was only five, but I was at home and just old enough to be in the midst of really discovering reading for myself. I recall eight as the age when the books no longer had pictures, becoming, instead, thin novels with exciting covers, full of amazing plot twists. They were peopled with characters that made you wonder who you might one day be, what you might do in those unfathomable years ahead. I was probably in the midst of devouring yet another John Bellairs book when I heard the news of the my dad's first story being published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magzine. And, as though someone had opened a window in the house, a fresh breeze scented with possibility wafted through, rifling the pages of my book.

This was also the year in school when we first had to keep a journal as an assignment, writing for some designated period of each day. It soon became apparent that I loved to write; my classmates would gladly close their notebooks once they had completed the minimum requirement but I kept going, filling page after page, stopping only when the teacher said we had to move on to something else. Later in the year, while talking about occupations, my teacher said she could see me becoming a writer. Right then and there I decided that that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Quite thoughtfully, my dad had just begun proving that this was an achievable goal for readers like us.

As my dad mentioned, books were always present in our house. Book shelves were stocked like bomber pantries, the library was visited twice a week, and favorite books were passed between us like sacred gifts. My sister's gift of the Hobbit, decades later, still sits on my shelf, read many times. From my dad I got Graham Greene, from my mother, Jane Austen. To my brother I bequeathed Anne Rice, though he might not care to admit it to his fellow doctoral students.

Happy International Family Day
Even when distance or time kept us from discussing a book that we had shared, the act of sharing it always felt significant. My older sister is the fantasy reader amongst us, with the Hobbit she offered me a doorway into a world to which I had not yet entered, but one that I knew was very significant to her.

Books felt, sometimes, like keys in this way. Keys to the inner worlds of our family members, keys to what they loved, and a means of sharing in it. Books have provided a common ground, a shared interest, and, at times, something else to argue about. What could be more significant?

Well… okay. Maybe a Corgi.

23 September 2014

Adventures In Catholicism

by David Dean

Pope Francis and a Few Friends
Don't be put off by the title of this piece, I'm not looking to convert anyone, or to proselytize. It's just that I had a very minor incident the other day which got me to thinking. Mostly, I avoid that function, as it tends to give me a headache, a bad stomach, and leads to drink. But let me explain: On Sundays, as part of my increasingly frantic efforts to avoid the punishments in the next life that I've undoubtedly earned in this one, I take communion to Catholics confined in the local hospital. It's something I've been doing since I retired a few years ago. Naturally, I've met a few nurses along the way. One, upon seeing me turn up like the proverbial bad penny for the hundredth time, raised an eyebrow and asked, "If Catholics are Christians, why do they call themselves Catholics?" Another woman who shared some counter space with her in the reception area, looked at me wearily, and croaked, "She's a Born-Again." I answered pithily, "Beats me," and kept walking. But it got me to thinking. There's one hell of a lot of misconceptions out there about Catholicism.

If you happen to write, you just might find yourself writing about a Catholic character someday. Or setting a story in a country that is predominately Catholic. It's predicted that within a few decades Hispanics will constitute the majority in this country, and most are Catholic. Or you might want a character to be a priest. Who knows? There's approximately 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Yes, that's right, I said billion. I even put my pinkie to my puckered lips, but you couldn't see that. And contrary to popular opinion, we are not dwindling in numbers (except in the highly secularized Western nations) but growing by leaps and bounds. This is why we have so many priests here from India (like my fictional character, Father Gregory Savartha), Nigeria, the Philippines, etc...Not so many years ago, the very opposite was true, as we sent missionary priests and nuns from the U.S., Italy, Ireland, and Spain to all points of the globe. Now they come to minister to us in their turn for which we are grateful.

Of course, Catholics have never been a majority in this country, which may explain why there's so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about the Church and its people. Here, a Protestant Christianity has held sway, and many of their views of us have been formed by all the bad press we garnered back in jolly olde England during the day. From the moment King Henry VIII decided he wanted another divorce, we were in deep trouble. Proclaiming himself the head of the Catholic Church in England, Henry set himself on a collision course with Rome, as Britain embraced its own version of Christianity. From that point forward, English Catholics were suspect as traitors loyal to the pope rather than the king, and as anxious collaborators with any threatening European Catholic power or nation. Mass was outlawed, and priests forbidden to administer the Eucharist (communion) on pain of death. Naturally, in the way of self-fulfilling prophecies, various failed uprisings occurred over the next several centuries, including the famous (or infamous) Gunpowder Plot to blow up the king and parliament. The English still celebrate this foiled attempt each year on Guy Fawkes Day, burning effigies of the unlucky conspirator, as well as those of papist priests and bishops. There are fireworks and drinking and a good time had by all. These anxieties were brought to the colonies and festered. Mr. Poole, a neighbor in my youth, assured me one hot summer day, that President Kennedy was an agent of Rome, and that it was only a matter of time before the country would be run by the pope. How very wrong he turned out to be.

St. Thomas More
(English Martyr)
Just as in Britain, Catholics in this country were often suspected of divided loyalties, the average American having little knowledge of Catholicism or its practices and dogma. What they did know only deepened their mistrust: the use of Latin instead of plain English (since changed), celibate priest and religious, parochial (why not public?) schools, the role of the mysterious, and foreign pontiff, and how could he be infallible? Marian devotion, the veneration of saints, all those statues (idol worship to some), transubstantiation, and much, much more! In modern times issues would arise placing us at odds with the mainstream over birth control and abortion. There seems no end to our deviation from the norm. Still, it is not my mission to convince anyone of the truth of any of these practices, but simply to illuminate what the Church teaches in regard to them lest you err in your writings. As I've said about police procedurals--its perfectly fine to have your detective go rogue and break all the rules, only make sure he (and you) know what the rules are.

Back to the nurse's question: Why call ourselves Catholics, not Christians? We are Christians, of course, but in the early days of the Church there was no need to call ourselves that, as there were no others--the church was simply referred to as "The Church". Later, the name Catholic, meaning universal, was adopted to distinguish the original church from the various sects, schisms, etc...that had arisen. Additionally, Roman Catholic is not an official name; you will not find it in Vatican writings. Rome may be the seat, but the Church exists wherever it has adherents.

Why are priests and nuns expected to be celibate? This seems to bug a lot of people. This practice arose amongst the very earliest monks in the first centuries of the Church, and is not exclusive to Catholicism. The idea of practicing deprivation in order to purify oneself and thereby be more worthy and open to contemplating God, has a long history among several religions. The practice was at last institutionalized during the medieval age, when rapacious bishops and abbots began to pass both Church lands and religious offices to their own children by appointing them clergy, in a thinly-disguised attempt at dynasty-creation. It became necessary to return the priests to their more ecclesiastical roles by having them (quite literally) zip up.

Pope Honorius Pondering
Why a pope, and how can he be infallible? The pope, of course, is the leader of the Church world-wide, and is considered to be the spiritual descendant of St. Peter the Apostle, whom Christ called the rock upon which the church would be built. His bishops and priests are the heirs of the apostles themselves. As for infallible...well, he's not...except in the very narrow, if powerful, sphere of pronouncing dogmas of faith and morals. Dogma meaning that Catholics must believe in a particular pronouncement in order to be considered actual Catholics--it's no longer debatable. It's only been used a few times in the 2,000 year history of the Church, the most recent occasions concerning Mary, mother of Jesus. One declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the other the Assumption of Mary into heaven body and soul. Which brings us to Marian devotion and some other, perhaps, surprising revelations.

Do Catholics worship the Holy Mother and the saints? Negative, good buddy. We only worship God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--the Trinity. As for the Blessed Virgin, we practice a special devotion to the mother of Christ and the first Christian person. Her example of love and obedience to God in all things is our exemplar of a holy life. She was also the first person to act as an intercessor between her son and the world, insisting that a reluctant Jesus intervene at the wedding at Cana after the wine ran out. His first recorded miracle was to replenish the wine and save the wedding party. Minor, perhaps, but it demonstrated the power and compassion of Mary. Devotion to Mary became widespread in the first centuries of the Church; long before it was officially endorsed. Catholics pray for her intercession with God on many matters. Essentially, we have the same relationship with the saints, but Mary retains primacy amongst them. Saints, by the way, are persons who led lives of "heroic virtue" (I love that phrase) and often, but not always, have died as martyrs to the faith. They are believed to be in heaven. The Church names them as saints only after two miracles have been attributed to their intercession and been verified by papal investigators. The Church recognizes that there are certainly saints in heaven that it has never heard of--otherwise ordinary people from many walks of life, who nonetheless led holy lives--and these saints, while not receiving an individual day on the liturgical calendar, are acknowledged on All Saints Day, Nov. 1.

Virgin Mary
by Diego Velazquez
The Immaculate Conception: This is a big surprise to most people, even a lot of Catholics. This dogma does not refer to the birth of Christ, but to the birth of Mary! Yes, we believe that Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, but the doctrine establishes that Mary herself, while being fully human, was conceived without Original Sin in order to bear the Son of God. The Assumption states that upon her death, she was assumed, taken body and soul, into heaven in order that the body of the Mother of God not be exposed to the earthly corruption that the rest of us can expect.

Transubstantiation--what the heck is that? This is where Catholics part company with many other Christian churches--we believe that the communion wafer and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ when they are consumed during the Eucharistic liturgy of the Mass. It is one of the Mysteries. Yes, with a capital M. We have a few of those. This is where faith comes in. Most other denominations consider the act symbolic. Not us.

Faith and Good Works: This is another area where we differ with many of our brethren. Catholics believe that to attain heaven, both faith and good works are required. Many Christian denominations believe that faith alone is sufficient.

Confession: a true crowd pleaser, confessions appear in movies, novels, and even at your local Catholic Church. I once set an entire story in a confessional booth (sort of). The Sacrament of Reconciliation, as it is more properly known, is a requirement of Catholics at least once a year, and prior to the Easter Mass (Easter Mass is a requirement also--we have a number of obligatory days of worship). Otherwise you are forbidden to take communion (the Sacrament of the Eucharist). Confession, and the subsequent forgiveness of sins granted for an honest recounting and sincere desire to repent, originate from Matthew, Chapter 16, in which Jesus tells Simon (Peter), and the apostles, that whomsoever they loosed from their sins, would be loosed; those that they bound would be bound. Thus began the practice that has carried down to this day. Unlike a lot of people, I actually don't mind confession that much, and always feel better afterwards...not that I really need it, of course.

Birth Control and Abortion: I hesitate to even address these due to the great passion the subjects invoke. But, you would be ill-served by this article if I didn't at least touch on them and that's all I intend to do. Contrary to popular belief, Catholics have not been secretly instructed by the Vatican to take over the world through rampant reproduction. At least there's nothing in writing. The reasoning behind the prohibition against birth control, which surveys show is observed in the breach by most American and European Catholics, has to do with the issues of trust in God, and the sanctity of life. The same applies to abortion and euthanasia. We are not to make the decision over who shall be born and who shall die--therein lies the prerogative of God. Of course, it's never quite this simple in practice, and there are many shadings, but that's the idea in a nutshell.

Suicide: Many Catholics, and others, wrongly believe that all suicides are damned by their final act. The Church's view of suicide is a more forgiving one, however, granting that most people who commit suicide are generally so despondent, or impaired in some manner, that they were rendered incapable of making a reasoning choice in the matter. Those very few that quite clearly, consciously, and with careful forethought and planning, unimpaired by excessive emotion, substance abuse, or coercion, take their own lives, are another matter. The reason for this being that their choice becomes a conscious rejection of the possibility of God's mercy, while the act itself makes final reconciliation impossible. That being said, the Church also acknowledges that there is very much that we do not know, and the possibility of God's mercy being available after such a death cannot be entirely ruled out, since all things are possible for God.

Why no female priests? Another issue that breeds passionate debate. Simply put, the apostles were all male, hence their descendant priests are too. The Church's position is that female celebrants are not part of the Sacred Scriptures. Still, we believe that the Holy Mother counseled those same apostles, so I'm not sure why that can't serve as the necessary precedent for female ordination. But, I'm not the boss and don't make the rules. Obedience is required of Catholics.

I once had a captain who (though Protestant) could not reconcile himself to the second collection that often occurs at Catholic Mass. He waxed indignant over the greediness of Rome though he was not subject to its demands. There's no doubt that the Church amasses a lot of dough. But, for the sake of clarity, second collections are voluntary and are for specific causes and charities such as food banks, convalescent homes, etc... The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organizations in the world. Here's an example that I think illustrates the point well--Only two percent of the population of India is Catholic, yet twenty-two percent of the medical care provided is through Catholic facilities. That takes big bucks, and that's just one country.

As for those statues of Jesus, Our Lady, and the saints: Most of us carry photos of our families and loved ones in our wallets or, more likely today, in our iPhones. We know that these are not actually the persons they represent, but facilitate our memory of them and our times together. Ditto for Catholic art. The paintings, and those worrisome (to some) statues, are simply aids in prayer and contemplation; nothing more.

Well, that's enough for now class. I hope you've enjoyed your primer in all things Catholic. Any mistakes, or misrepresentations contained herein, are entirely my own, and entirely unintentional. If I have erred, and you know it, please gently correct me, unlike what's happening below. Until then, remember these words from St. Augustine's "Confessions" that serve as my credo, "Lord, make me good… but just not yet."

Goya's "Procession of Flagellants on Good Friday"

29 April 2012

My Two Cents Worth

by Louis A. Willis
Types of Literature

I thought for this post I’d throw in my two cents on the controversy of literary versus genre fiction. We read stories to vicariously satisfy our desire for pleasure and to sometimes explain reality. So why the separation? To satisfy our need to categorize to avoid confusion, to clarify in our minds how the world works. Enough philosophizing. On to my meditation on the subject.

The argument boils down to this: genre fiction is plot driven and literary fiction is character or theme driven. Literary fiction appeals to our intellect and emotions while genre appeals only to our emotions.

Although readers may get more out of fiction than entertainment, stories above all should entertain. But no matter whether it is genre or literary fiction, both require craftsmanship, for it is in the craft that effects on the reader are achieved. I admit in some genre stories the line between good and evil are sharp and clear and may not be so clear in literary fiction, but isn’t it possible that the clarity can make you as a reader think seriously about the human condition? And isn’t it possible that literary stories may be read for sheer enjoyment without any deep thinking about the human condition?

In an attempt to clarify the situation in my mind, I analyzed two crime stories, one literary and the other genre, by two  great writers.

In Hemingway’s story “The Killers,” two hoods, Max and Al, enter a diner and tells the counter man, George, the black cook Sam, and Nick Adams that they are there to kill Ole Andreson. The killers leave without hurting anyone because Ole, a former boxer, failed to come to the diner that day. When Nick later tells Ole about the two men, he says there is nothing he can do. He is resigned to his fate. The story certainly is not plot driven for what little plot there is suggests more than shows what is happening in Ole’s mind. The story is literary fiction.




Hammett’s “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” is a plot-driven story about  how a woman outwits the man who killed her husband. The man who killed Dan Odams escapes from jail and takes refuge in a house with a woman and her 12 year-old son, not knowing she is Dan Odams’s widow. She recognizes him and tricks him into believing she sent her son outside to watch for his pursuers. The son in fact runs to a neighbor’s place for help. As he is dying, realizing the woman is Dan Odams’s widow, the fugitive expresses admiration for her avenging her husband’s murder. No question the story is plot driven.

Neither story enticed me to think very seriously about fatalism or revenge. I simply enjoyed reading them.


I also analyzed and enjoyed a story by a not so well known writer that made me think. In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, John Wright is murdered in his bed. His wife Minnie is suspected since she was the only other person in the house, but the men, Mr. Hale, who found the body, the sheriff, and the county attorney, don’t find any convincing evidence in the bedroom  crime scene that would convict her. The two women, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, inspecting Minnie’s things in the kitchen, find an empty bird cage. The dead bird they find in the sewing  basket suggests Minnie had taken as much abuse from John as she could and his killing her bird was the proverbial last straw. This story made me think about the perennial theme of how women and men see things differently.

Literary or genre fiction, does it really matter so long as you enjoy the story. Like Daniel Abrahams on the SFsignal website in his essay “A Private Letter from Genre to Literature,” I too plead, “Please, please, darling let us stop this.This artificial separation between us is painful, it is undignified, and it fools no one.” 

Except maybe a few literary critics. 

I'm So Confused